January 24 was proclaimed by the UN as the International Day of Education in 2018, thus underlining the important role education plays for empowerment, development and peace.
As a basic human right, education is vital to the development of each individual’s potential, and crucial if he or she is to enjoy the full range of other human rights.
According to the Bahá í International Community: “Future generations will be better able to govern the affairs of humankind and guarantee that the rights of all are respected if the rights of today’s children are protected and their full development assured.”
While it is important that education is provided to all, it is not enough to focus only on enrolling children in schools. There is a need to generate in children a vision of the kind of society they wish to live in – a peaceful society, a society in which the development and empowerment of everyone is ensured. Once they have such a vision, we can help them shape their future and to be the kind of individuals that will bring about such a society.
Education can prepare our children to act in the long-term interests of humanity as a whole.
In order to achieve this, educational programmes should lead them in moral empowerment as well as intellectual development.
But this is often not the case. The educational systems in many parts of the world have been neglecting the moral and spiritual development of our children. This has, regrettably, contributed to numerous social problems.
For education to enrich both the mind and the spirit, it must try to develop moral attributes such as truthfulness, courtesy, generosity, compassion, justice, love and trustworthiness.
Reflection of such qualities in our lives can create harmonious, productive families and societies. Such education should help to instil in every individual the awareness of the fundamental oneness of humankind.
According to the Bahá í Writings: “Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved – even though he be ignorant – is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the sciences and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light.”
Transforming the attitudes and values of our children through spiritual education entails instilling in them respect for the rights of others and a desire to uphold and defend those rights; it entails empowering them to become collaborators in the development of their community, in addition to taking an active role in their own development.
Furthermore, school curriculum must become an instrument for promoting peace, and the belief in the oneness of humanity must be cultivated in our children throughout their education.
Our children must appreciate the role of unity in diversity as the basis for social integration. In order to achieve such goals, a systematic approach is needed to transform the attitudes, values and behaviours of our children, their families and our communities. Through appropriate spiritual education, such transformation can take place.
By Flora Teckie